By: Jesse Donathan
In a February 21, 2019 sherdog.com article titled, “Dustin Poirier, Al Iaquinta call for UFC release after lightweight title snub” author Nathan Zur writes, “reports suggest that the UFC was trying to organize a match between former welterweight and middleweight champ St. Pierre and lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, but negotiations fell apart, leading “GSP” to retire from the sport officially.” Both Iaquinta and Poirier felt that they have earned their respective title shots and have been sitting on the shelf as the UFC attempts to put more lucrative fights together at the expense of the division.
As author Nathan Zur points out, a “logjam” had been created in the lightweight division and both Poirier and Iaquinta felt slighted that the UFC was attempting to put a mega fight together between former two division champion Georges St. Pierre and lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov instead of rightfully allowing the contenders in the division to earn their shots at the throne Nurmagomedov currently occupies.
In a February 22, 2019 Bad Guy Inc. YouTube video titled “What happens if Max Holloway fights Tony Ferguson” Bellator light heavyweight contender and ESPN analyst Chael Sonnen recommended Dustin Poirier to take one of two approaches in dealing with his frustration with the UFC, “one is to do everything right and sit by your phone, the other one is pick up your phone and pick a fight” on social media, citing a recent social media dust up between Tony Ferguson and Max Holloway which garnered UFC President Dana White’s attention and a fight a potential fight was rumored to have been in the works.
Sonnen recommended Poirier take the bull by the horns, create his own destiny and use the power of social media and its unique interaction between the fans and fighters to create a narrative between himself and the fighters he would like to fight in order to give the UFC a reason to promote the fight.
And it looks like Poirier’s request to be released ultimately caught the attention of all the right people, as ESPN’s Brett Okamoto recently broke news that Poirier will fight UFC Featherweight champion Max Holloway for the interim UFC Lightweight title as the current champion Nurmagomedov sits out his NSAC suspension due to a post-fight brawl at UFC 229 in October.
According a February 21, 2019 sherdog.com article titled, “Georges St. Pierre announces his retirement” author Jay Pettry quotes St. Pierre as stating, “we tried to organize the fight with Khabib, I know Khabib want it and I want it, but the UFC had other plan[s]. To the point where I am in my career, for me it’s more taking one fight at a time instead of being there for several fights, and the way the business works … if they promote someone, they want to keep him somewhere … it’s like an investment.”
Pettry would go on to quote St. Pierre as stating, “it’s a fight that could elevate my legacy, and I knew he wanted to fight me and this message excited me but unfortunately it takes two fighters and the organization for that fight to happen.”
Iaquinta and Poirier’s call for release came on the heels of former UFC interim welterweight champion Colby Covington calling for his own release from the UFC, according to January 8, 2019 bloodyelbow.com article titled, “Colby Covington slams Dana White over title shot snub, calls for release from UFC” author Milan Ordonez writes that, “Covington is not pleased about the UFC’s decision to have Kamaru Usman fight Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title.”
While the overall picture suggest multiple fighters are rebelling against the UFC’s business practices and in particular the direction in which the UFC is putting fights together, at least in terms of Covington there is likely more going on than initially meets the eye. While most fans are accustomed to the divisional rankings based model, where fighters move up through the ranks into the top 10, eventually cracking the top 5 and hopefully moving into the number one contender position and earning a title shot the UFC has increasingly moved to blend in an additional business model where stars are created, made if you will, and big money fights are put together which can include everything from multi-divisional contests between champions to cross promotional mega fights between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor. The genesis of this additional model ultimately boiling down to dollars making more “cents” than the conventional contender paradigm.
Covington is a star in the making, a charismatic fighter the fans love to hate and whom the UFC needlessly created an interim welterweight title fight for and whom Dana White even brought to the White House with him to meet long-time friend and President of the United States of America, Donald Trump. In my opinion, Covington is being protected by the UFC as some of his toughest opponents are pitted against one another in order to clear the landscape for an eventual attempt at placing Covington in the driver seat of the welterweight division.
The current champion Tyron Woodley is set to face challenger Kamaru Usman for the welterweight championship, the end result being one of Covington’s two biggest challenges in the division being sent to the back of the line as the welterweight landscape becomes that much more open for a Covington run at the undisputed title. The excuses from Dana White about Covington blowing a chance against Woodley due to nasal surgery and justifications for putting Usman in with Woodley over the interim champion in Covington little more than a smoke screen for the true plan, which is placing Covington into the welterweight title spot with as few bumps in the road as possible.
Covington’s public calls for release little more than an attempt to turn babyface from heel by creating a sympathetic story line with the public where Covington feels slighted out of his rightful title contender position by the evil promoter; meanwhile the true monsters are pitted against one another in order to kill one of the two lions in the division off in order to help clear the landscape that much more for a Covington run. Professional wrestling psychology 101.
With St. Pierre, you have a widely popular star in the UFC who has legitimately earned the title legend in the sport due to the magnificent career the former welterweight division kingpin enjoyed prior to stepping away from the sport for the first time in 2013 after a tough fight with then challenger Johny Hendricks. St. Pierre would then come back after leaving the sport behind in November of 2017 to face Middleweight champion Michael Bisping, defeating the Brit by submission in the third round to claim the UFC Middleweight title.
St. Pierre fought a death’s row of welterweight opponents in his career, legitimately earning his title shot and defending his belt in an impressive reign as welterweight champion. Though many claim, with some merit, that St. Pierre was gifted a middleweight title shot that he didn’t deserve the fact is “Rush” accomplished more than enough in his career at welterweight to merit the middleweight title shot and it has went a long way in further cementing an already solid case for the Canadian juggernaut as being one of if not the greatest fighters in UFC history.
A third title shot for St. Pierre at the UFC lightweight belt would have went a long way in advancing St. Pierre’s case, who at this point is carefully crafting his career with his legacy in mind, however the UFC was looking to put business over St. Pierre’s best interest and the fighter has elected to play hard ball and retire for what may or may not be for good rather than give into the UFC’s demands, however legitimate they may in fact be.
Iaquinta and Poirier were within their rights to feel frustrated, in particular Poirier who has did more than enough to earn his shot at lightweight gold but whom up until this point had been left on the outside looking in until ESPN’s recent interim lightweight title bout with Holloway. However frustrated either fighter may be, the fact is they are in the premier organization in mixed martial arts and they have a lot of blood, sweat and tears invested in their careers in the lightweight division.
Veteran Chael Sonnen’s advice to start pounding on the war drum before giving up and throwing up the white flag ultimately proved fruitful for Poirier though I found Iaquinta’s willingness to throw his hat in the ring commendable despite having a pretty good case in his own right having recently boxed up UFC lightweight contender Kevin Lee in an impressive showing.
It appears the UFC is getting their act together and the stagnation in the division is finally letting up, in the meantime it’s time for Iaquinta to do what he does best and that is go find someone he can beat up for the rest of us to enjoy while stilling holding the UFC’s feet to the fire. Though nobody can blame either fighter for wanting to explore the potentially lucrative and ripe free agency waters that signing with Bellator or another promotion could mean for their careers.